UNITED NATIONS (Dec. 16)
By a resounding vote of 111-25, the U.N. General Assembly has repealed its infamous 1975 resolution branding Zionism as racism.
“We pushed back the darkness,” a jubilant Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said after the historic vote late Monday afternoon.
Thirteen U.N. member states abstained from voting on the repeal measure. But an even greater indication that the tide against Israel at the United Nations has shifted is the fact that several Arab countries, including Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco and Tunisia, decided not to vote at all.
However, the other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, cast votes against the repeal measure.
The overwhelming vote in favor of repealing Resolution 3379 surprised some and reflected the success of the massive lobbying effort mounted in recent weeks by U.S. and Israeli diplomats, as well as Jewish organizations.
“Now I can have my weekends back,” said one American diplomat, who on the morning of the balloting told the ambassador of one African country that a vote against repeal would end their 15-year personal relationship. That country abstained.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger introduced the one-sentence resolution, which read simply:
“The General Assembly decides to revoke the determination contained in its resolution 3379 (XXX) of 10 November 1975.”
That resolution of the 30th U.N. General Assembly determined that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
‘HURT JEWS TO THE CORE’
Eagleburger spoke of the United Nations’ origins from the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust, and of how its moral hopes were destroyed by an era of confrontation and reckless name-calling.
The resolution on Zionism, he said, “demonstrated like nothing since to what extent the Cold War had distorted the U.N.’s perception of moral reality, and separated it from its purpose.”
The Soviet Union was one of the repeal measure’s 85 co-sponsors, as were most of the countries that 16 years ago had been either part of the Soviet Union or under its control.
It was the leadership of the Soviet bloc which, along with the Arabs, enabled Resolution 3379 to pass in 1975 by a 72-35 vote, with 32 abstentions.
The only countries to vote Monday against repeal who were not either Arab or Islamic were Cuba, North Korea, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
But for the Jewish organizational officials that crowded the visitors gallery of the General Assembly, the event held a significance beyond closing the coffin on the Cold War.
“Like the anti-Jewish libels of the dark ages, the U.N.’s defamation of Zionism hurt Jews to the core, not least because they had from the start supported the U.N.,” said Harris Schoenberg, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International.
Schoenberg, who has pushed for the repeal since 1975 through his involvement in the U.N. community of non-governmental organizations, said, “Guys have called me up, asked me to please forget that they said I didn’t have a chance.”
The small group of Jewish leaders who turned up at the United Nations 16 years ago for the dismal midnight vote were in the General Assembly chamber on Monday, recalling the sense of isolation they felt at the time.
“The difference this time is that everybody was there,” said Evelyn Sommer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress American Section.
WIDE MARGIN SURPISED MANY
Perhaps the most prominent of the 1975 alumni attending was U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time condemned Resolution 3379 with a ferocity that earned him a permanent place in Jewish hearts.
While everyone in the pro-Israel community was confident that a majority of U.N. member states had signed on for the repeal motion, the extent of the support came as a surprise to most, with the exception of the top U.S. and Israeli diplomats leading the lobbying effort.
“We had bets in the office,” said one member of Israel’s U.N. Mission. “I said 102; my friend here said 96. Nobody expected 111.”
The total reflected the determined push by the Bush administration in recent weeks at the United Nations, in Washington and in foreign capitals, where, as one key U.S. official put it, “the decisions are made.”
President Bush himself called for the repeal of the 1975 resolution in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September.
But the actual “green light” from Washington did not come until two weeks ago. Jewish leaders agreed that one of the people who pushed hardest for the repeal was John Bolton, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.
The overwhelming vote also testified to the massive international effort mounted by Jewish organizations, both throughout the years and in recent weeks.
“These are the jobs the World Jewish Congress was created for,” said Israel Singer, secretary-general of the WJC, which organized affiliates in 70 countries to lobby their governments.
MORE THAN 70 MEETINGS
In New York, at least 70 meetings took place between Jewish organizations and foreign diplomats under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Organizations were matched with countries where they had ties. Hadassah, for example, met with representatives of African countries that benefit by its medical training program.
Another group long involved in the battle to overturn the 1975 resolution was the World Zionist Organization, which called Monday’s vote “a victory not only for Zionism, Israel and the Jewish people, but for truth and justice, as well.”
The General Assembly hall filled soon after the 3 p.m. session began with the routine passage by acclamation of several resolutions.
Israel was not the only country which had more than the usual two or three representatives at its seats, but it was unique for its festive atmosphere: One Israeli diplomat brought his camera.
Less festive was the empty chair at the podium, belonging to General Assembly President Samir Shihabi of Saudi Arabia, a Palestinian who absented himself for the proceedings.
Following Eagleburger’s introduction of the resolution, Lebanon’s U.N. representative, Ambassador Khalil Makkawi, spoke on behalf of the Arab states.
“This comes against the clear understanding that no controversial issues would come before the 46th General Assembly which might impact on the peace process,” he said.
He argued that passing the repeal measure would “whet the appetites” of Israeli extremists and “fuel the passions of those Arabs who believe the whole peace process is an exercise of futility.”
Yemen then introduced a proposal that the repeal require a two-thirds majority.
Algeria veered far from the procedural point in its endorsement of Yemen’s proposal, going so far as to draw upon a statement from the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl.
Herzl’s description of the future Jewish state as “a kind of avant-garde for civilization against barbarism” was proof of Israel’s racist origins, the Algerian representative argued.
‘REMOVED A STAIN FROM THEMSELVES’
By a 96-34 vote, with 13 abstentions, the General Assembly voted down the requirement for a special majority.
Then the General Assembly voted on the repeal resolution itself — and cleared the two-thirds majority.
If the 1975 resolution was taken as an invitation to anti-Semitism and a clear message that Israel and Jews were not welcome in the halls of the world body, Monday’s vote turned what Israeli diplomats had already described as an improved atmosphere into virtually a Bar Mitzvah celebration.
As soon as the vote concluded, delegates headed over to congratulate Foreign Minister Levy and the Israeli delegation. Included among the well-wishers were Ethiopia, which abstained.
“It was a great victory,” said Levy. “We not only felt it, but we saw it in all those who came to congratulate us, as if it were their victory. They’re saying they’ve cleared up a debt, removed a stain from themselves.”
The jovial atmosphere after the vote, which included mazel tovs, handshakes and back-slapping among some of the Jewish organizational leaders who attended the session, perhaps climaxed when Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, joined a news conference given by Levy for the Israeli press.
Levy, who speaks little English, excitedly shook hands with Pickering, who as ambassador in Tel Aviv in the 1980s became fairly fluent in Hebrew.
“Eizeh yofi!” (How wonderful), they said to each other, before switching to converse in French.